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Hello,

I'm a learner of English Language and I have a question that has been confusing my mind for all this time. It's about that "The Simple Past Tense vs. The Present Perfect Tense" thing. I already know how to use them when I write something in English (in essays, letters, etc.). I know that I HAVE TO use The Simple Past Tense with a specific time such as "yesterday, in the Middle Ages, 2 minutes ago, seconds ago, etc.". But I just can't decide which one to use when I'm in the middle of a conversation. I visited the US last year and had so many people to talk when I was there.
Every time I try to talk face to face with a person, I get nervous to say something about the past. Actually, saying something about my past really gives me the creeps. I always try to look for a result and that makes me want to use The Present Perfect Tense almost in every sentence about my past because I always find a result Emotion: smile For example, while I was hanging out my friends, my phone rang. I answered. A woman said, "Is Peter there, please?" and blablabla. Then my friends asked, "Who were you talking to?" and I just couldn't decide which tense to use. The Simple Past or The Present Perfect. I mean "I talked to a stranger." or "I've talked to a stranger." So, please, tell me what is the exact difference between The Simple Past or The Present Perfect? Can I use The Present Perfect everywhere without a specific time? Or Is it O.K. to use The Simple Past without a specific time? Because people say "I saw her" or "I've seen her." So what? Emotion: smile It all sounds the same to me.

Warm regards.

Gökhan.
Comments  
As far as I know, Present Perfect is used to talk about something that happened in an unspecific point in the past, and sometimes its result is apparent in the present time. Also, it is used to talk about an experience.
e.g. I have visited France for 3 times.[as you can notice, in this sentence the exact time of the visits is unknown. What matters the experience itself].
e.g. I have finished my homework. [it is used here because the result (which is the homework itself) is clear].
If you say, 'I finished my homework', this means 2 things: that this action took place at a specific point in time which is already known for the speaker in particular....It could be 2 minutes or 3 hours ago and the result itself is not important.
Thanks a lot.
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It's not really the Past Simple or the Present Perfect that you need but the Past Continuous or the Present Perfect continuous. You could have taken your lead from the question 'Who were you talking to?' with the answer 'I was talking to a stranger'. The question could equally have been put in the Present Perfect continuous - 'Who have you been talking to?' and answered in the same - 'I've been talking to a stranger' as the Present Perfect Continuous carries the implication of 'recently' or
'lately'.
The main Diffrenet between past simple and present perfect are:
1. The present perfect is used when the time period has not finished
eg: I have seen three movies this weak.(this week hasn't finished yet.)
The past simple is used when the period time has finished.
eg: I saw three movies this last weak.(last week is finished)

2. The present perfect is used when the time is not specific.
The past simple is used when the time is clear.
3. The present percect is used with FOR and SINCE , when the action have not finished yet.
The past simple is used with FOR and SINCE, when the action have already finished.

(By: Mithalesh Verma (BCA Final Student)
HeraclesI just can't decide which one to use when I'm in the middle of a conversation.
If you are in the middle of a conversation and have to think fast, use the simple past. (You don't have to specify a time with the simple past, but you can.) Sometimes you'll be wrong, but you'll be right most of the time. Emotion: smile

Another clue is to listen for the tense used in a question, and use the same tense in the answer.

Who were you talking to? / I was talking to ...
What did you do? / I went ... / I talked ... / I played ... / I asked ... / ...
Have you ...? / Yes, I've ... / No, I haven't ...
Are you ...-ing? / Yes, I'm ... -ing. / No, I'm not ...-ing.
HeraclesCan I use The Present Perfect everywhere without a specific time?
You have to use the present perfect without a specific time. It's the only way you can use it.
HeraclesIs it O.K. to use The Simple Past without a specific time?
Yes. As I said above, you don't have to use a specific time, but you can. And if you are going to mention a specific time, you have to use the simple past (or some other tense) and not the present perfect. Only the combination in red below is wrong:

present perfect past

without specific time without specific time

present perfect past

with specific time with specific time
HeraclesI always try to look for a result and that makes me want to use The Present Perfect Tense almost in every sentence about my past because I always find a result Emotion: smile
Try to stop doing that. Almost everything has a result if you think about it long enough, but that doesn't mean you have to use the present perfect. Ask yourself if you are telling a story. If it seems like a story, use the simple past.

I went to the mall. I met some friends there. We went to a movie. The movie was an adventure film. It was very exciting. We all liked it. After the movie, we tried to find a place to eat. There was a restaurant nearby. We checked out the menu. It was too expensive, so we looked for another restaurant. We finally found one and went in. We ordered. We ate. After we finished, we all went home. I got home very late.

-- A sequence of events that tell a story. ALL simple past tense.

Even if you have only one event to tell people about, the one sentence you say can be part of a larger story, so you tell it that way, with the simple past.

I sent her an email.
I found some money on the street today.
I had dinner early yesterday.

When you tell a story, you don't add "during the course of my life" after everything you say, do you? Of course not. In the story above, you don't mean "I went to the mall during the course of my life. I met some friends there during the course of my life". Nobody who is listening to your story is interested in the fact that you did these things "during the course of your life". It's the wrong point of view for telling a story.
____________

But if you went to a job interview, you might want to talk about what you have done during the course of your life.

I have worked at an airport. / I have worked at a restaurant. / I have led many projects. / I have learned how to get along with people. / I have written a lot of financial reports.
-- not a story -- a list of accomplishments -- ALL present perfect.

You can easily add "during the course of my life" to any of these:

I have worked at an airport during the course of my life. / I have led many projects during the course of my life.

And so on. And for things you have never done:

I have never worked at an airport (during the course of my life).
_________

Questions that ask about your life experiences:

Have you ever seen the movie Matrix? / Yes, I have. (at least once during the course of my life)

Have you ever taken a train to London? / No, I haven't. (never during the course of my life)

When you think about it, there is a similarity to talking about your other life experiences and being at a job interview and having to talk about some specific life experiences related to a job. In both cases, people want to know what you have done during the course of your life. In other words, they want to know what you have experienced in life.

_______

The more difficult cases are where it doesn't really matter if the speaker thinks about something as part of a story or as a life experience. In many of those cases, either tense can be used.

These examples do not deal with every possible way you can use the simple past and the present perfect, but at least they give you a few things to think about.

CJ
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Emotion: smileI'm agree with you. when the specific point of time is known for the speaker , so h/she can use the simple past but not the present perfect.